Review – The Secret Lives of Many in ‘Queen’s Hope’ by EK Johnston

Padmé Amidala is the most underutilized and overlooked character in Star Wars. I’ll continue to say this until she gets the recognition she deserves in the Star Wars canon. This isn’t a hot take at all, it’s a fact. She’s almost completely erased from the new canon of stories; not even mentioned once in the sequel trilogy and nothing more than a cameo in the final season of The Clone Wars. And don’t get me started on writer Charles Soule unceremoniously blasting her wardrobe, Leia’s only physical connection to her, into the void in Marvel’s Poe Dameron. Author EK Johnston has done her part to keep Padmé’s spirit alive, but the third novel, Queen’s Hope, will likely leave Padmé fans wanting much more for one of Star Wars strongest characters.



Johnston began her exploration of Padmé with Queen’s Shadow, the strongest novel of these three. It remains one of my favorites, establishing the bond between Padmé and her Handmaidens. The strength of that bond gives a solid foundation to the story, but unfortunately the follow-up, Queen’s Peril, meanders from the origin of their relationship into a retelling of The Phantom MenaceQueen’s Hope seemingly aims to get back on the path, recognizing a character like Padmé can carry a story of her own, but also wanders off into distraction with cameos, shoutouts, and a carousel of intriguing secondary characters and subplots that disappear as quickly as they appear.


This review includes minor spoilers, so if you’re looking to experience Queen’s Hope fresh you may want to hold off reading. I’ll do my best to keep the plot points vague, but there are some elements of this story impossible to discuss without going into specifics. You’ve been warned.



Queen’s Hope begins before the wedding of Padmé and Anakin, in the fleeting moments before the galaxy is fully thrown into the nightmare of the Clone War. These chapters are the strongest of the novel. Johnston’s love for Padmé shines brightly, a vibrant pallet with the grays of melancholy Padmé faces. Both she and the galaxy are about to change forever. While the war casts an ominous shadow over a republic she works to preserve, Padmé acknowledges her new life will be one lived in the shadows.


The quiet, introspective moments in Padmé’s mind suggest Queen’s Hope will cherish the themes of optimism the senator and former queen lived through her work. What makes Padmé so distinct from other heroes in Star Wars are the frequent demonstrations of her morality and values. Padmé showed the galaxy far, far away who she was and what she believed in through her actions, her defiance of the standard, and asking a government for the people to do better. Now, she’s opening up her life, sharing it with someone, and beginning to realize how uncharted this new territory is for her. There is hope, but also an ominous undercurrent Johnston puts into her portrayal. It’s also nearly impossible for fans of the character to read these opening chapters and wish she’d never set down on this path, knowing too well the brutal end awaiting her at the hands of the one person she trusted completely.


This opening sentence sums up Padmé’s characterization in Queen’s Hope:


For one of the few times in her life, Padmé Amidala had no idea what to do. She kept secrets all the time, but this one was different. Usually, the girls she shared her secrets with also helped her keep them. They weren’t just her confidants; they held her web of secrets together. And this time she was alone.


There is a somber solitude in Padmé throughout the story. What runs counter in the face of hope: This is only the beginning of Padmé’s isolation. Queen’s Hope contains few chapters and scenes where Padmé and her Handmaidens are in the same room. I’m still unsure of Johnston’s intentions, but I’d guess this theme of isolation shows the fortitude of Padmé. Enduring a war she’d fought so hard to prevent. A crumbling republic rapidly transforming into an autocracy. And a marriage in the shadows, one she could never share with the family she’d made for herself.



Though Queen’s Hope depicts this bittersweet new truth for Padmé, she doesn’t just languish in all the new dilemmas in front of her. The book quickly gets moving, with Anakin and Padmé intervening in a crisis shortly before their wedding, one which they both realize they aren’t prepared to face and must step away from. The reality of the Clone War has set in for them both, realizing there will be many horrors awaiting the galaxy each of them will be unable to stop. While this moment of awareness is something we’ve never experienced with Padmé and Anakin, this mission is the first of many deviations Johnston makes from the central character of the story – which become more of annoyance than an intriguing subplot.



The same scattering can be said for the Handmaidens. I didn’t keep a page-count, but the Handmaidens feel like more of a presence in Queen’s Hope than Padmé. The short length of this novel can’t accommodate each of their stories, and by the end, it feels flat. Sabé definitely has the most time, continuing her work to free slaves on Tatooine with her partner Tonra. Their work on Tatooine could arguably be a whole book itself, but the glimpses we get feel like nothing more than that, before Sabé is called to Coruscant to pose as Padmé, while she goes off on a mission of her own.


The bond between these characters, beautifully established in Queen’s Shadow, doesn’t come through much in this story. Only when characters recall the days of service to Queen Amidala do you get a sense the bond is still there. There is still love between them, but the distance of years and space gives a sense their bond isn’t as strong. Not to mention, Padmé now holds a secret, and each of them sense something has changed.



There are also some very strange continuity issues in Queen’s Hope relating to the continuation of Sabé’s story in the Marvel Darth Vader series by Greg Pak. Unfortunately, I have to get into some spoiler territory. Sabé is the only one who discovers Padmé and Anakin’s marriage. Anakin sneaks into Padmé’s apartment on Coruscant, only to discover Sabé posing as her. It’s awkward, and their interactions throughout the novel are nothing chilly. The only reason they seem to tolerate each other is their shared love for Padmé. The glitch in canon seems to be in Darth Vader #24 when Sabé discovers Padmé gave birth shortly before passing, she seems genuinely stunned her friend had a child with Anakin. Maybe this will be elaborated, but it seems like a big miss on the Story Group’s part, especially with the character’s large presence in both stories. No criticism of Johnston here, just a grip with how slippery canon’s become over the last few years.


What bothered me most about Sabé’s discovery of the secret marriage is how aloof the final chapter between her and Padmé feels. When Sabé shares with Padmé her discovery of the marriage and her hurt feelings about being shut out from that part of her friends life, Padmé is almost unresponsive. It’s a very strange moment, maybe one of the last we’ll see between these two, and it’s Sabé brushing Padmé’s hair like she’s a child, even though these are two of the oldest souls in the galaxy. Johnston’s setting choice is sweet, but the symbolic loss of innocence between these two feels more like someone ghosting an old friend on social media. It’s an abrupt and cold whisper signifying the end of a friendship as they know it. There were so many possibilities, but it felt like they both shrugged their shoulders at this huge revelation.



While Johnston adds some great characters to the cast of this story, including the first transgender clone trooper using she/her pronouns and a gender-neutral aide named Tepoh using zhe/zhem pronouns, the walk-on appearances well-known characters tend to take away from the story. When Johnston brings in Palpatine and other familiar faces, the time she devotes to writing them seem to be more self-indulgent than story-serving. Unfortunately, some even seem like fan-service and cameos you’d expect on a Disney Plus show rather than a novel about Padmé. While some readers might welcome these familiar faces, I would’ve much preferred Johnston stick to the new characters she introduces or the central ones we are expected to invest in.



A few characters I welcomed the return of came in short interludes Johnston sprinkles throughout Queen’s Hope. The novel opens with the first backstory we’ve been given of Shmi Skywalker, which I won’t dare spoil here. Though it’s just under two pages in length, Johnston’s writing is beautiful and heartbreaking. For as many critiques I have with Queen’s Hope, these passages about a few women in the galaxy far, far away deeply moved me. Johnston honors their spirits and reminds us heroism isn’t exclusive to swinging a lightsaber or jumping in an X-wing. It can be stoicism and fortitude in the worst, impossible circumstances, allowing hope and love to live. The economy and effectiveness of these few pages is remarkable and should loudly remind fans we still don’t know many of these stories and certainly deserve them. Shmi Skywalker novel when?!



Ultimately, the bones of a great story are in Queen’s Hope. I’ve no doubt this book will please many readers. There are some wonderful moments. The biggest weakness of the novel isn’t Johnston’s writing, there’s no doubt she poured a lot into this, and I felt her love for each character. It’s the length. This book should’ve been at least one-hundred pages longer, in my opinion. The editorial decisions confuse me. While keeping in verbose descriptions about clothing or setting, it feels like a lot of characters had pages or even entire chapters cut from the final proof. I’m only speculating, but Queen’s Hope felt like it ended somewhere in the middle of all these stories. It left me a bit confused and wondering where some of these characters will end up in future stories.



When EK Johnston began this series just over three years ago, what I wrote about Queen’s Shadow holds true through each novel: Padmé is selfless in her service to others. She always demonstrates true strength and heroism, which underscores how weak and cruel Anakin’s betrayal is. It still frustrates me her story is lost in the larger narrative of the Skywalker stories, while writers continue to parachute and inject Luke Skywalker into everything they can. Queen’s Hope may have a shaky hold on Padmé’s torch, but I salute Johnston for putting in the work to keep Padmé in the Star Wars narrative. I only hope this series of novels isn’t the last for Padmé and her Handmaidens, because they certainly deserve a place among the most celebrated heroes in a galaxy far, far away. We can’t lose heroes like Padmé Amidala, as they are reminders for all the heroes we need in our own galaxy right now. More than ever.


RATING: 6/10


Queen’s Hope is available wherever books are sold. Special thanks to Lyssa Danielle and Disney Lucasfilm Press for the advanced copy used in this review.


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Kyle Larson lives in Portland, Oregon. When he's not running trails, he's reading and writing.

Kyle Larson

Kyle Larson lives in Portland, Oregon. When he's not running trails, he's reading and writing.